Going Deeper

redwood forest‘Going Deeper’ is a focused Meditation Retreat at the Mount Madonna Center that begins for us today. Officially it began on Friday night but we were uprooted from the full experience by full paying customers who registered last minute. I was quite disappointed, but am grateful to at least experience part of the process. What exactly is this retreat, you might ask?

meditationA small group of around 25 participants are set in seclusion for 4 days, embarking on a personal journey that invokes a deeper level of meditation and purification practice. To help calm the mind and allow it to turn inward, the staff incorporate a light diet of pure foods alongside a variety of purification practices, an observance of silence, and a meditative cave-like atmosphere of seclusion, all designed for inner reflection. A number of hours each morning and afternoon will be devoted to prescribed meditations, breathing exercises (Pranayama) and practice of asana in the tradition of Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Baba Hari Dass. Time for reflection and study, spiritual stories, rituals, chanting of mantra and other devotional practices are also part of this special retreat.

Maha Shivaratri

Shiva altarShiva NatarajaMaha Shivratri (Sanskrit: महाशिवरात्रि),is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva who represents the Pure Conscious Principle. Shivaratri literally means the great night of Shiva or the night of Shiva; Shiva literally means “auspicious” and as Shankara, he is the giver of happiness and the god who destroys evil. This year, Shivaratri will be celebrated on Sunday, the 19th of February into Monday, the 20th. The program begins on the morning of the 19th with the ritualistic creation of 1008 Shiva Lingams (a Shiva Lingam is symbolic of the creative power of the universe. It denotes the truth that God does not have any definite form). At sunset the community continues their vigil: chanting kirtan to Shiva and performing ritual throughout the night in the Community Building. The closing ritual ends just before dawn.  Offerings are then carried to the Hanuman Temple for Arati, and finally to the Newt Pond where the offerings and participants submerge into the cleansing waters.

Lingam BabajiTraditionally Shivaratri is observed on the lunar fortnight, when the moon is waning, in the western month of February or March. This particular night is considered a time of consecration and dedication, which can result in the mind’s illumination. The festival is principally celebrated by a multitude of offerings to Lord Shiva, with all day fasting by those participating in the ritual circles and an all night long vigil by those who wished to celebrate in Shiva’s name.

Kirtan played the biggest part of the evening with Puja and Yajna ceremonies intermingled between the kirtan marathon sessions. The holy mantra most commonly chanted throughout the evening {with many different artists offering their renditions and blessings} consisted of five-syllables: “Na” “Ma” “Shi” “Vaa” “Ya” (Om NamaH Shivaaya) in praise of Lord Shiva. Nataraja (the king of dancers) is a favourite form adored by dancers and musicians.
An example of one of the evening’s mantras:

Sanskrit Wording:

English Meaning:
At dawn I contemplate on Shiva, the God of gods, the remover of the fear of transmigration, who holds the Gangã in his locks, and rides a bull, the Lord of Ambicã (the Divine Mother), the wielder of the club and spear (in two of his hands) and with the other two offering boon and protection and who is the one infallible remedy for the afflictions of relative existence (Samsãra).

Breaking the Cleanse

karma cleanseUp until today, working in the kitchen and eating meals within the community has been a valuable test of my will and austerity. For example, witnessing and smelling the decadence of a creamy chocolate cake being prepared and decorated was the ultimate in divine temptation. But I have remained true to my cleanse, only consuming kitchari over the past 5 days. This morning, I helped to prepare Sunday morning breakfast and found the time to make my own kitchari with time left to ponder and relax. One thing that the cleanse has offered me is clarity in vision, and the ability to fine tune whatever task I have been handed. That’s been a superior benefit to this daily routine that I’ve been witness to! With Shivaratri festivities starting today, several ceremonial rituals involved a fasting regiment for at least 18 hours. I have wanted to participate in all 3 ceremonies but that would have meant starting my fast last night. And there was no way that I had the physical stamina or willpower to do without food for 36 hours. I needed sustenance beyond a liquid diet, after 5 days of a mono-cleanse that left me wanting for ‘normal foods’ and a routine of nutritional variety and sustenance. So instead, I have decided to eat my kitchari with the addition of steamed vegetables for breakfast. At 10am, I would start my fasting!

The best foods to eat after a colon cleanse are fresh raw / cooked fruits and vegetables, vegetable broths, well-cooked whole grains, nuts & eggs and lots of water. Alcohol, fried foods and processed foods should be avoided at all costs. Alcohol is not an issue as no alcohol is allowed at Mount Madonna. Fried foods I tend to stay away from. Chocolate and processed foods: a bit more of a challenge. However, today I stayed true to a fasting ritual: I incorporated a drink of homemade yogurt and rice milk to my liquid fast today. However, in the evening, my tummy was bloated. At first I thought it might be the dairy, but my co-cleanse partner Annie thinks it might be the rice milk and the processed oils contained in it. Regardless, I am taming the shrew and cutting back on my Lassi drink (my tongue is super coated with a thick white mucus = perhaps a dairy intolerance??).

Here’s a couple of Lassi recipes from the website Ayurvedic Yogi that I didn’t have access to a blender to follow, but will be making in the future!

Lassi

Aids digestion at end of meal as increases Pitta. Blend 2 cups of water with ½ cup plain yogurt, skim off the fat that rises to the surface, add 2 pinches of ginger and cumin powder. For Vata types, add a little rock salt; for Pitta types a little jaggery; for Kapha types a little dried ginger powder and black pepper.  Or try:

  • Pachak Lassi: Add 1 inch of fresh ginger, ½ teaspoon cumin seeds / powder, pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon chopped coriander to garnish. Balances all doshas.
  • Spicy Lassi: 2 tablespoons sugar, (or less) ½ teaspoon fresh, grated ginger or ¼ tsp. Dry ginger, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom. Good for all doshas.
  • Sweet lassi: 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 drop of rosewater.

Day 8: Final Day of Cleanse

LingamLingamI’m finding myself in a unique situation right now. I have been successfully diligent and fastidious in determination on and commitment to this 9 day cleanse. Today is Day 8 and tomorrow we are supposed to break our cleanse gently by consuming kitchari with vegetables. However, with this being Shiva Ratri at Mount Madonna, in order to participate in some of the ritual offerings (on a volunteer basis of course), one must fast for at least 18 if not 24 hours before the ceremony. The Lingam-making ceremony starts tomorrow at 9am and carries on for 3 hours, and participation in the making of the Lingams requires a fast to start from 12 noon. Yes, that would be right now! Hmmm, I am not so certain as to whether fasting on my final day of a cleanse is a good idea?

The advice out there is that the best foods to eat after a colon cleanse (which this cleanse literally is) are fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lots of water. It’s strongly advised that one should avoid alcohol, fried foods and processed foods at all costs (yes, that would include sugar and chocolate, oh my!). The rule of thumb is that it’s very wise to be gentle to the body after a colon cleanse, slowly introducing certain foods to the system. Not listening to this advice would send my digestive system and liver in to sensory and task overload. If I were to fast on the final day: who knows what might happen. That info is not provided in the book nor anywhere that I could find on the interweb. However, there are many benefits to fasting, a major one being preventive health care. Personally, I feel magnificent after 8 days! At times, a little bit tired and as the day has progressed, quite hungry. Yet I feel light-hearted, light in body and clear in vision and desire. So in the end, I have decided to break my cleanse early on the final cleanse day with a fast. This gives me an opportunity to participate in the full ceremonial rituals of Shiva Ratri.

Sidenote: As the day progressed, I realized that fasting for 48 hours on liquid alone would be too difficult after a 8 day cleanse. My hunger was overpowering by dinner time, even if I could only eat kitchari. I needed nourishment and sustenance. So I eliminated the idea of the ceremonial making of 1008 Lingams and followed my intuition on what my body needed. Regardless of what opinions I had read or been given, the end result for me lay in the importance of hearing what my body had to tell me. And I am grateful for having that ability to listen to and follow my instinctual body signals. A blessing indeed!

Lingam

Leaving the Bubble

ocean greetingpacific oceanFor the first time in 3 weeks, we left the Mount Madonna retreat to go in to town. What a revelation! Life all of a sudden became hectic, and the beauty of nature discovered in the Redwoods felt extremely distant. However, acclimatizing myself to life off the mountain is good thing. I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Santa Cruz, stocking up on yummy organic chocolate from Trader Joe’s while also stocking up on Kombucha (I have a love affair with GT Dave’s Kombucha). We then made a glorious visit to the beach, following in our tradition to touch the ocean whenever possible. But alas our return to MMC and the Redwood Forest was even more splendid. A homecoming of sorts to the ideals, values and nature we have grown to cherish.

redwood

Hustle & Flow

MMCAdyashantiWow, what an incredibly long past week this have been. A 9 day silent meditation retreat with Adyashanti was held in the main conference center and throughout the grounds of Mount Madonna. In this retreat, 250 people remained silent for the duration of their stay. For those of us volunteering with the YSC program, it meant really crazy busy long shifts that had us hustling beyond our scheduled format. Whether it be cleaning dishes, preparing food in the kitchen (3 delicious vegetarian hot meals daily), cleaning the bustling bathrooms, monitoring the mealtimes, replacing food items, clearing up messes or catering to the needs of 250 people, we were all moving at animated speeds, organized by a crew who were very familiar with attending to such large group numbers. Yes indeed, it was an extensive week of bustling non-spoken mix of chaotic energies. And today the retreat’s group broke their silence, had a final lunch break and vacated the mountain as quickly as they had come.

To think that I was tired before their arrival :)! The reprieve in our workload for this upcoming week is most welcome and needed. Until the next group of 150 descends for 12 days, starting all over again next week. It’s ultimately a dance of hustle and flow, in which I do my best to find an equanimous balance for self-growth and nurturing whilst aiding in the spiritual enlightenment of others.

Tantra Sadhana

mudraToday is our precious day off from our hectic volunteer schedules here at Mount Madonna. Getting up at 5:30am for our daily yoga, meditation and pranayama session has been difficult at times and really challenging, especially as we both have diligently practiced Dinacharya each morning prior to our 2 hour morning yoga class. This morning we instead chose to arise at 4am as we were asked to participate in a Tantra Sadhana practice. On Thursday morning, Amita (the teacher and first female Puja Priestess here at the Center) asked slaDE and I if we practiced the 3 bandhas (interior Body Locks used in Yoga – Jalandhara Bandha {Throat Lock}, Mula Bandha {Root Lock} and Uddiyana Bandha {an Upward Abdominal Lock}), and if we had practiced it consistently over a 3 month period. As I had learned about the bandhas when I first learned Ashtanga Yoga asana in India 6 years ago, I have regularly used at least 2 of the bandhas in my practice (Jalandhara not so much). This was one of the desired requirements for participating in their Tantra Sadhana ceremony as taught by Baba Hari Dass at MMC. slaDE has lesser experience with using the bandhas in his practice, but as they needed a 7th couple, we were both invited in to the circle. Those undergoing their YTT 500 (yoga teacher training) were especially encouraged to join in this sadhana (a spiritual practice). From the email we received, these were the prerequisites:

Requirements are:

  • a working knowledge of the 24 hand mudras preceding meditation and the 8 following meditation;
  • intermediate pranayama practices (including Bhastrika, Sahit Kumbhaka, and the Maha Mudra series);
  • intermediate asana with some breath retention (modifications will be given);
  • and the ability to comfortably sit for roughly 2-3 hours, staying in the circle for the entirety of the practice.

In order to move forward with this practice, we need, but are not limited to, 7 couples: 7 men and 7 women. Gender difference is the only stipulation to create a couple; you need not be connected romantically to form a pairing.

We were delighted at the prospect of particpating in such a spiritual practice reserved for the community members who were longer residents, practitioners and residents here at MMC. What an experience this would be, we thought. Truly I had NO idea. Prior to this morning, slaDE and I practiced the hand mudras as taught by Babaji. The 3 hour ritual was an amazing ceremony that invoked a pinnacle of male and female energies. Couples were placed in one big circle, reflecting an infinite wheel / the 6 chakras. The 7th pair were the facilitators and the altar, seated in the centre of the circle. There were beautiful observances of prayer, meditation, asana and advanced pranayama over the entire span of 3 hours. It was incredibly powerful, deeply moving and challenging at times (especially knowing that I couldn’t fidget or move from the room … I’m was born restless :)).

The Maha Mudras explained:

Jalandhara Bandha {Throat Lock}

  • a Bandha for your throat, the throat chakra and the thyroid gland, stimulating blood flow and letting you breathe freely

 Mula Bandha{Root Lock}

  • stimulates your nervous system while moving muscles consciously that you have never moved before

Uddiyana Bandha {an Upward Abdominal Lock}

  • better digestion, no sexual problems, self-esteem and a healthy blood flow are only a few benefits of this very effective pose

The Rain’s Entrance

rainfallThe rain has finally come. Two months of no rain had cultivated a sense of worry regarding the water table levels . Conservation of the precious H2O here on the mountain has been a fervent plea expressed through the weekly web newsletter and with educational signs postered everywhere water is used (whether it be in the bathrooms, kitchen, dining halls, garden, etc), available to all those living and retreating here. For me, conservation at MMC is no different than living in an rV, where limited water stores is very much an issue (especially when boondocking). I’m grateful to have this rV experience behind me, as this helps me to be super conscious of my own usage, assisting and educating others, if the opportunity arises. The Mount Madonna Center (MMC) moves towards its sustainability goals by implementing improvements in water conservation by asking those on the mountain to:

  • Limit showers to 3 minutes
  • Turn faucets off in between tasks
  • Flush toilets only when necessary
  • Use the outhouses whenever possible

Additionally,

  • All water used comes from the property.
  • Rainwater runoff is collected seasonally in three lakes for firefighting, agriculture, and recreation.
  • On-site wells provide for drinking water and domestic water use.
  • All toilets and showers heads are low flow.
  • Treated grey water from the Conference Center and Mount Madonna School is re-used for watering of the garden and landscape plants.
  • Grey water from many of our other buildings is returned back to the ecosystem after treatment via septic systems and leach fields.

morning gloryI am thoroughly impressed and in awe at the environmental policy steps that MMC has set in place to encourage and practice resource conservation. Clean  water is so precious, and not available to all on our planet. The Mount Madonna Center provides an amazing model as to what a community can achieve with thoughtful diligence and proactive steps towards a healthier better planet.

Reap What You Sew

reap what you sewSowing in the garden MMCI’m not certain when it happened but I have always loved to sew. Perhaps I developed the love in high school home economics? Not really certain, but what I do know is that, if I ever have access to a sewing machine (not very often with travelling so much), I find a project or two or four to work on. Today was such a day. Several weeks ago, I found 2 pairs of yoga pants in the ‘Free Box’ outside of our Community Building. It’s a really cool feature here at the Center with often times really cool finds and discoveries. The pants I stumbled upon were way too big but I made do by using elastic bands at the waist to cinch them up. I was tired of the bands bulking up everything I wore so I discovered a sewing machine here in the Costume Department. Giraji, the owner of said machine, was generous to offer it to me at any time that I sew chose. Very cool! For 3 hours I spent cutting and sewing (I even tightened up my favourite old pair of Lululemon pants which meant cutting them after my mending job — eek!), getting lost in my projects and almost missing dinner. Prior to that I went for an amazing hour walk getting lost in the Redwood Forest followed by a haunt through the garden in search of some lovely flowers. What an amazingly creative and beautiful day. One of my best here on the property yet!

In the Garden of Plenty

MMC gardenToday was a day filled with wonder, weariness and a certain emotional level of self-discovery and challenge. A family member went in for a surgical procedure that had my senses wound up and on the brink of tears and worry. I was wishing that I could have physically been there to support them through their process. Thankfully though, they have a huge life and love-force there to guide them through the next difficult few months whilst I am here with my beloved husband at MMC.

In my work service today, I spent several hours weeding through the magical garden that exists here at the Center. It is filled with vibrant yields of organic produce and flowers that, although off-season, still amaze me at their splendour and plenty (such a foreign concept: growing vegetables + flowers through the winter — outside of a greenhouse). With todays crew of 7 individuals, we were able to clear away a weed laden area that would be re-purposed as an additional growing area. Within a two hour time span, a large plot of wild overgrowth was cleared and opened, transforming it in to an enchanting new space of fertile availability. Interwoven in the mix were some herbs that I had never seen before beyond a herb book: mullein, foxglove, wild chamomile and milk thistle. I am not very proficient with learning names, especially that of the botanical kind (sort of like trying to learn the Sanskrit names of people within this community — foreign with no real context to relate them to). But I will take it slow and learn what I can, even if it means pestering people to repeat the names over and over again.

Within my 4 hour kitchen shift, I learned some interesting tidbits. One being that they use neither garlic nor onions in the kitchen. I can’t imagine eliminating those items from my vegetarian cooking diet as they’re usually a big part of my regiment in food prep. But as it happens here, those types of foods are suited to a specific Ayurvedic dosha, so the food preppers eliminate these items from the community diet. Same goes for spices or hot sauces. However the latter are provided as additional condiments. Garlic and onions are not. I actually miss them, to be honest! Secondly, I learned a neat tasty trick for preparing delicious mashed potatoes without Dairy. When mixing the potatoes, add Quinoa to thicken and intensify the protein and nutritional content of the mash. It is an incredibly yummy vegan option that I intend to try once I get back to cooking for us on a regular basic. Yummy! All in all a lovely day intermixed with the strong influence of meditative practices to bring an easier equilibrium to my internally wound emotions and senses. Life here on the mountain is proving to slowly bring evolving positive changes. Me likey …